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The Beijing Consensus: A Threat of our own Creation

NAFAC Week

By Jhana Gottlieb

Over the past 40 years, Beijing’s domestic policies have successfully transformed China from an impoverished nation into a world superpower; yet, they did so without a basic tenant of Western development theory—democracy.1 In 2004, China’s startling growth led Joshua Ramo to coin the term “Beijing Consensus.”2 This moniker nods to the “Washington Consensus,” the set of political and economic development prescriptions issued by Washington technocrats to Latin American countries in the late 1980s in an attempt to spur regional development. To some Western academics and politicians, the Beijing Consensus poses a threat to the United States’ soft power, particularly within developing nations. Yet to what extent does the Beijing Consensus truly represent an international ideological danger? Contrary to the beliefs of Western alarmists, the Beijing Consensus’ power derives mostly from its definition as an alternative to Western neoliberalism, not from any ideological strength of its own. In emphasizing the dichotomy between the Washington and Beijing Consensuses, Western observers thereby only further extend China’s ideational power.

The overarching argument for China’s ideological threat contends that China’s successful growth has provided an attractive alternative development model founded on authoritarianism, which lacks fundamental Western values such as universal human rights or democratic institutions. This model, when combined with China’s increasing political and economic expansion into developing regions, is slowly replacing the West’s soft power across vast territories, particularly Africa and Latin America. In his book, The Beijing Consensus: Legitimizing Authoritarianism in our Time, Stefan Halper argues that the “net effect of these developments is to reduce Western and particularly American influence on the global stage—along both economic and ideational axes.”3 Furthermore, this threat supersedes all others, for it “will have a vastly greater impact than will the tactical military and economic ‘China threats’ concerning Washington today.”4 Essentially, the U.S.’s grip on global soft power dynamics is weakening as a result of an ongoing battle between dominant ideologies.

While initially compelling, Halper’s argument ultimately falls short in its most basic assumption—that China and the U.S. truly represent two intrinsically antithetical ideologies. Since its initial release in the 1980s, the “Washington Consensus” has come to more generally to represent a cohesive development model in which democratic institutions and neoliberal economics mutually reinforce each other. It rests upon a strong ideological foundation dating back to Adam Smith’s political economy model in the Wealth of Nations. The Beijing Consensus lacks a comparable historical foundation and cohesive political economic definition. It is often referred to as state capitalism, implying some sort of state-controlled economic liberalization; beyond this general understanding, its specifics remain rather vague. In fact, its defining tenant lies within this ambiguity. Shaun Breslin, a leading expert on China’s political economy, explains that “not being identified as the promoter of any specific normative position is in itself a normative position.”Rather than representing a concrete political economic model, the Beijing Consensus “is simply concerned with doing what works in the long term, and is not driven by any plan.”Therefore, in comparing the two, the Washington Consensus is the specific combination of democratic institutions and free market economics, while the Beijing Consensus seems to be most any other combination of political and economic factors that foster development.

In reality, upon closer analysis of China’s path to economic growth, it is startlingly similar to Western neoliberalism. Scott Kennedy finds that China actually followed eight of the ten mandates of the Washington Consensus during its Opening and Reform period.Economically, the two are quite similar; it is only upon including political ideology that they truly diverge. While the Washington Consensus is firmly based in democracy, Breslin argues that, “for most observers, it is this experimentation and non-ideological commitment to doing whatever it takes to promote growth while maintaining political stability that is the defining hallmark of the Chinese mode of governance.”8 Therefore, the Beijing Consensus is not its own political economic system. Rather, it is a model of political stability and economic growth by some combination other than the Washington Consensus’ unique pairing of democracy and free market capitalism. Thus, the Beijing Consensus derives its strength by being defined as everything outside the Washington Consensus, not its own ideational foundation.

However this definition is the very reason that the Beijing Consensus does not necessarily need a strong ideational basis. “The China model isn’t important for others because of the specifics of what has happened in China; rather, it is important for establishing what can be done if other countries do what is best for themselves based on their own concrete circumstances and not simply what they are told to do by others.”Not telling others what to do is highly antithetical to the Washington Consensus, which was forcibly imposed upon Latin American countries. The Beijing Consensus’ ideational power therefore lies in its respect for autonomy and individualized growth, a power that is enabled by its continual comparison to the Washington Consensus.

Definition by comparison further strengthens the Beijing Consensus in light of the 2008 economic crash. “Before the 2008 financial crisis, the Beijing Consensus was an interesting idea that animated discussions at academic seminars and conferences, mostly in Western countries. This is no longer the case.”10 Free market failure naturally strengthened the ideational weight of all other models, including the Beijing Consensus.

Ironically, the Beijing Consensus now represents a form of Chinese soft power, but was originally propagated by Western theorists. Breslin argues that the Beijing Consensus is a, “speech act—talking of it, and defining it in a specific way, makes it real and gives it real power.”11 Therefore, Western insistence on this dichotomy is not only the source of the Beijing Consensus’ ideational strength, but also leads to the expansion of its power.

In reality, China’s development shares many similarities with the Western model. It is only through Western theorists highlighting the differences and compiling them into an intellectual concept that China has developed as an ideological competitor. Continual emphasis on these differences is the source of its strength, as the Beijing Consensus has no ideology of its own upon which to rest. If the West wishes to limit China’s ideational power, it must cease propagating an ideological dichotomy and instead emphasize the similarities China shares with the West. As of now, the Beijing Consensus is an ideational threat of our own creation, and will be so as long as we continue to define it by what it is not.

Jhana Gottlieb is a senior IPE major at Colorado College. She is passionate about conflict resolution, and plans to pursue international mediation post-graduation. On campus, Jhana is a member of the John Quincy Adams society on American foreign policy, a peer tutor at the CC writing center, and a student assistant in the Political Science Department. In her free time, she loves to travel and ballroom dance, as well as explore Colorado’s exquisite natural world through backpacking, skiing, and rock climbing.

Bibliography

Breslin, Shaun. “The ‘China model’ and the global crisis: from Friedrich List to a Chinese mode of governance?” The Royal Institute of International Affairs 87:6 (2011): 1323-1343. Accessed March 3, 2016.

Halper, Stefan. The Beijing Consensus: Legitimizing Authoritarianism in our Time. New York: Basic Books, 2010.

Huang, Yasheng. “Rethinking the Beijing Consensus.” Asia Policy 11 (2011): 1-26. Accessed March 2, 2016.

Kennedy, Scott. “The Myth of the Beijing Consensus.” Journal of Contemporary China 19.65 (2010): 461-477. Accessed March 3, 2016.

References

1. This paper was adapted from an earlier written assignment, composed for the class “Topics in Politics: China and World,” taken in March 2016.

2. Scott Kennedy, “The Myth of the Beijing Consensus,” Journal of Contemporary China 19.65 (2010): 462, accessed March 3, 2016.

3. Stefan Halper, The Beijing Consensus: Legitimizing Authoritarianism in our Time (New York: Basic Books, 2010), 3.

4. Ibid.

5. Shaun Breslin, “The ‘China model’ and the global crisis: from Friedrich List to a Chinese mode of governance?” The Royal Institute of International Affairs 87:6 (2011): 1338, accessed March 3, 2016.

6. Ibid., 1382.

7. Kennedy, “The Myth of the Beijing Consensus,” 470.

8. Breslin, “The ‘China model’ and the global crisis,” 1328.

9. Ibid., 1338.

10. Yasheng Huang, “Rethinking the Beijing Consensus,” Asia Policy 11 (2011): 4, accessed March 2, 2016.

11. Breslin, “The ‘China model’ and the global crisis,” 1324.

Featured Image: A paramilitary police officer in plain-clothes holding an umbrella keeps watch on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, August 27, 2015. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

The Reawakening of the Russian Bear

NAFAC Week

By Jared Russell

The Danger of a Declining Power: Reckless Courage in the Face of Oblivion

It seems as if a day does not pass without seeing a news article analyzing the relations between the United States and Russia. It remains undisputed that Vladimir Putin has successfully solidified his position of leadership amidst the Russian hierarchy, and the world waits in wonder of what he may do next. The troubling, and occasionally overlooked, variable of this situation is that Putin is not commanding a thriving nation. Rather, Russia has experienced considerable decline in terms of market economics since the collapse of the Soviet Union, losing global power and failing to compete with the torchbearers of globalization. Thus, it is evident that Russia is not an emerging power in the global landscape, and furthermore, it is safe to assert that they are not ‘reawakening’ under any conditions. Instead, amidst their decline (or possibly even within the monotony of stability via mediocrity), the United States must be cautious of the dangers posed by a disruptive nation that acts like it has nothing to lose. Let us begin by debunking the notion that Russia is an emerging power before moving on to analyze the dangers associated with declining powers.

The National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 predicts the misfortune of Russia. The report proposes in relation to Russia’s economy that it is “likely to continue [its] slow relative decline.”1 The report continues, “[A] Russia which fails to build a more diversified economy and more liberal domestic order could increasingly pose a regional and global threat.”2 The threat here would be exhibited in the form of trying to obtain resources and other market shares from neighboring countries, conflicts that may extend so far as to provoke NATO. Russia, for so long, has relied upon the oil industry to fuel its economy, failing to diversify fully into other areas within the market economy. By failing to fully embrace the liberal order of modern markets, Russia has not achieved the success of its counterparts. With the prices of crude oil currently dropping to just under $50 per barrel, it looks as if the Russian economy is far from sustainable, especially considering it is pillared on a resource that is subject to exhaustion.3

In his article, “The Illusion of Geopolitics,” G. John Ikenberry categorizes Russia as a “part time spoiler,” citing that they are not worthy of the title of “revisionist power.”4 In this context, revisionist powers are understood to be emerging authorities that seek the throne of global hegemon. These authorities would seek to abolish/revise the pluralistic, democratic, and capitalistic practices that have been established in many nations throughout the world under the tutelage of the United States—going as far to usurp the U.S. from its seat as global hegemon. Russia, according to Ikenberry in his response to Walter Russell Mead, is clearly not a revisionist power, deducing this from observing Russia’s willingness to maintain its status amongst the global institutions (i.e. the UN Security Council, IMF, World Bank, etc.). Moreover, Ikenberry notes that Russia’s stance on international relations is “mainly about the search for commerce and resources, the protection of their sovereignty, and, where possible, regional domination,” and continues, “[t]hey have shown no interest in building their own orders or even taking full responsibility for the current one and have offered no alternative visions of global economic or political progress.”5 Thus, Russia recognizes the importance of the global market system and the role that it plays in its success. Beyond trade, though, is a concern for geopolitics, preventing Russia from expanding their order to contend for global supremacy.

I believe that Ikenberry’s analysis of Russian prioritization in modernity hits the mark, but his overall optimism of the United States’ position having a certain degree of permanency is poorly founded. In attempting to solidify the position of the United States atop the global ladder, Ikenberry fails to adequately account for geopolitics as he attempts to undermine the importance of geopolitics by conceding its existence as negligible. It is on this point that I must agree with Mead in part, as geopolitics would appear to play a considerable role in global power dynamics—but, that is not to say that engaging in geopolitics warrants a position equitable to a revisionist power. Over the past several years in Crimea and South Ossetia, we have seen Russia take holdings in Ukraine and Georgia, land that was once part of the Soviet Union. This behavior, though, is not an attempt at the building of a new order. It appears to be an effort to disrupt democratic political institutions that have been established to respond to such situations. One must wonder: is this Russia’s advance at cementing their power on the global scale or is it an exhibition of a dying country that is so desperately trying to stay relevant?

If we were to accept the former, in that Russia was trying to cement its power, we would be accepting the argument of John Mearsheimer. Richard Betts weighed in on the topic, channeling Mearsheimer when he advances, “Bucking the tide of optimism, [Mearsheimer] argued that international life would continue to be brutal competition for power it had always been…[his] vision is especially telling because it is an extreme version of realism that does not see any benign actors in the system and assumes that all great powers seek hegemony: ‘There are no status quo powers…save for the occasional hegemon that wants to maintain its dominating position.”6 But does this viewpoint encapsulate the current state under which Russia operates? I am certain that Russia yearns to be the global hegemon, but all of the evidence that we have reviewed thus far suggests that they could not be farther from actualizing that goal.

Russia, even with their antics over the course of the past ten years, has been unable to disrupt the fabric of humanity. Instead, they have elected to directly challenge democratic institutions in Europe and the United States. Alas, it seems as if we have reached the pinnacle of our dilemma, and we can identify it as a continuance of a problem outlined by George Kennan during the Cold War. Kennan posits the necessary response, “it will be clearly seen that the Soviet pressure against the free institutions of the western world is something that can be contained by the adroit and vigilant application of counter-force at a series of constantly shifting geographical and political points, corresponding to the shifts and maneuvers of Soviet policy, but which cannot be charmed or talked out of existence.”7 It appears as if Russia, even in its decrepit post-USSR state, is trying to apply pressure against the free institutions of the western world. Kennan had advocated for a response that is economic and political to such disruption, as a military conflict with Russia will yield no winners—and most likely a world of losers. If the United States responds to Russia’s disruption militarily, then we may truly have a discussion about the ‘reawakening’ of the Bear.

Ultimately, we settle upon the realization that we must recognize our differences with Russia in terms of ideals, values, and institutions–transcending beyond the traditional military disputes that marked the history of our relationship until the finale of the Cold War. To say that Russia is reemerging into the global political scene as a contender for the position of global hegemon appears to be entirely fallacious. For Russia, their economy and the diversity of their resources point toward an overall declination in global power. Let it be clear, though, that reemergence is not a necessary condition of danger. As we tread into the future, we must account for Russia’s incessant desire to maintain its standing near the top of the global battleground. If Russia does, in fact, face impending oblivion, the United States must remain cautious to falling into the traps of reckless courage exuded by the falling Bear.

Jared Russel is a junior from Colorado College majoring in political science and philosophy and will be graduating in 2018.

References

1.“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council, 2012, iv.

2. “Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds,” National Intelligence Council,2012, ix.

3. “Crude  Oil Index,” NASDAQ, Accessed March 22, 2017, http://www.nasdaq.com/markets/crude–‐oil.aspx.

4. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order, “ in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 16.

5. G. John Ikenberry, “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order,” in Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 2015, 24.

6. Richard Betts, “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited,” in Foreign Affairs: The Clash at 20, 2013, 72.

7. George Kennan, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” in Foreign Affairs, 1947, Part III.

Bibliography

Betts, Richard. “Conflict or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited.” In Foreign Affairs: The

Clash at 20, 69-80, 2013.

“Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds.” National Intelligence Council, 2012.

Ikenberry, G. John. “The Illusion of Geopolitics: The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order. “ In

Foreign Affairs: The New Global Context, 16-24, 2015.

Kennan, George. “The Sources of Soviet Conduct.” In Foreign Affairs, Parts I-IV, 1947.

Featured Image: Members of the armed forces of the separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic drive a tank on the outskirts of Donetsk, Ukraine, in this January 22, 2015 file photo. (Reuters/Alexander Ermochenko)

The Middle Way: A Balanced Approach to Growing America’s Navy

NAFAC Week

By Riley Jones

During the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Donald Trump made the size and strength of America’s naval force a key aspect of his defense platform, arguing that the fleet should be increased in order to give policy-makers a diverse array of options to deal with threats and emergencies.1 Others stress that the size of the Navy is completely sufficient to deal with any and all potentialities, particularly given the fact that the United States currently possesses the only 10 nuclear-powered supercarriers in the world; this advantage precludes any serious challenge from the likes of near-peer competitors and ensures American dominance of the seas for the foreseeable future.2 However, these extremes fail to recognize the realities of a constrained and competitive national budgetary environment and the growing inadequacies of the current fleet to deal with limited-scope challenges from rising near-peer states. The United States Navy should adopt an intermediate approach to growing the fleet in order to maintain a favorable balance of power while also making efficient use of limited budgetary resources.

Critics of a proposed buildup in naval forces often focus on the current advantage that the United States enjoys over every other nation, particularly the fact that all supercarriers are currently American. They note that America possesses an overwhelming dominance in terms of “carriers, nuclear submarines, naval aviation, surface firepower, assault ships, missiles and logistics.”3 However, they fail to take into account what the most likely conflicts with China and other near-peers like Russia would look like. Carl von Clausewitz distinguished between warfare waged in order to obtain the complete annihilation of the enemy’s military capability and warfare waged in order to shift and renegotiate the balance of power between two sides.4

An engagement with China, for example, would likely be limited in scope and not involve either side seeking the total or even significant destruction of the other’s military force, let alone the use of nuclear weapons.5 During such an engagement, there would be a focus from the enemy on the deployment of anti-access, area-denial weaponry to push American carriers out of aircraft range of the mainland and immediate coastal waters, as well as potential sea lanes; this would deny America the ability to rapidly retaliate, leaving U.S. allies without key air defenses and vulnerable to a blockade by Chinese forces.6

Those who wish to maintain the current status quo in naval forces or even implement a reduction also fail to realize the dangers of the current operational tempo to the long-term health of the fleet. In order to ensure three supercarriers are on deployment continuously throughout the world, it is necessary to maintain a fleet of twelve, as for each carrier on assignment, three are heading to replace it or are training, returning home from deployment, and undergoing maintenance, yet the Navy has been deferring maintenance and lengthening deployments in order to accomplish the same mission with only 10 carriers.7

Conversely, some argue that the United States must engage in a drastic naval build-up. President Trump’s current proposal includes an increase in the number of carriers to 12 and of the total ships to 350.8 Such a force, he maintains, is necessary for the United States to be able to meet any rising security threats across the globe and to continue to ensure the freedom of the seas. Rear Admiral Thomas Moore stated that the Navy is “an 11 carrier Navy in a 15 carrier world.”9 While aircraft carriers, as outlined previously, are rightfully integral to America’s vision for its navy, there is a danger in building such an expansively large force.

The first is the danger of spreading resources too thin and exacerbating current budgetary instability. The Ford-class aircraft carries costs upwards of $10 billion per ship, while the Virginia-class attack submarine and littoral combat ships have price tags of $3 billion and $500 million respectively.10 The Defense Department must already compete for funding and such a large increase in the naval force would result in even greater budget deficits or cuts to domestic spending, neither of which are tenable in the long-term. These unpopular solutions may reduce political support for the continuance of such a large force in the future and the additional maintenance of non-vital vessels will prevent investment in technologies that will ultimately allow the United States to counter measures such as anti-access, area denial.11

Second, growing the fleet more than necessary to maintain America’s ability to field three carriers and project power across the world would be seen by near-peers as a sign of aggression, likely to cause an escalation of tensions. While maintenance of naval capability may be seen as the United States holding ground and taking a primarily defensive posture in relation to its role in world affairs, a large build-up of naval forces will be depicted as aggressive because it would enable the United States to, in their view, become more involved in world affairs.12 Naval forces are difficult to classify as either offensive or defensive in nature because of their mobility and the differing nature of naval warfare regarding territorial possession, but an increase beyond the current strategy of three deployed carriers would exacerbate tensions because of the perception that the United States was seeking to further tip the balance of power in its favor, rather than maintain its current advantage.13 Much like those who would maintain or shrink the force, proponents of such a large growth ignore the reality that an engagement would have a “limited aim” which would not be the total defeat of opposing forces, but to maintain the balance of power for America and, for our enemies, to encourage a retreat of American forces.14 We should therefor prepare our forces to be able to dominate in this “trial of strength” with our competitors so that they conclude challenging the status quo the United States maintains is too costly for them.15

Riley Jones is a junior at Indiana University from Marion, Indiana. He is studying Political Science and Anthropology with a minor in German. After graduation, he hopes to serve his nation as a United States Marine Corps Officer.

Bibliography

Donnelly, Thomas. “You Say You Want a Revolution?” American Enterprise Institute, March 15, 2017. https://www.aei.org/publication/you-say-you-want-a-revolution/.

Easterbrook, Gregg., “Our Navy is Big Enough,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/opinion/our-navy-is-big-enough.html?_r=0.

Friedberg, Aaron L., Ross, Robert S., “Here Be Dragons: Is China a Military Threat?” The National Interest, 103. September/October 2009.

Kraig, Michael R., “Military Planning for East Asia: A Clausewitzian Approach,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2017.

Larter, David B., “Donald Trump wants to start the biggest Navy build-up in decades,” Navy Times, November 15, 2016, https://www.navytimes.com/articles/donald-trumps-navy-bigger-fleet-more-sailors-350-ships.

Levy, Jack S., “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology,” in Conflict After the Cold War. ed. Richard K. Betts (Columbia University, Pearson Press. 2012). p. 444

McGrath, Bryan., Eaglen, Mackenzie., “America’s Navy needs 12 carriers and 3 hubs,” American Enterprise Institute, March 11, 2014, https://www.aei.org/publication/americas-navy-needs-12-carriers-and-3-hubs/.

Shear, Michael D., “Touring Warship, Trump Pushes Plan to Expand Military,” New York Times, March 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/us/politics/trump-navy-warship-military-spending.html.

1. David B. Larter, “Donald Trump wants to start the biggest Navy build-up in decades,” Navy Times, November 15, 2016, https://www.navytimes.com/articles/donald-trumps-navy-bigger-fleet-more-sailors-350-ships.

2. Gregg Easterbrook, “Our Navy is Big Enough,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/opinion/our-navy-is-big-enough.html?_r=0.

3. Gregg Easterbrook, “Our Navy is Big Enough,” New York Times, March 9, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/09/opinion/our-navy-is-big-enough.html?_r=0.

4. Michael R. Kraig, “Military Planning for East Asia: A Clausewitzian Approach,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2017. p. 102.

5. Aaron L. Friedberg, Robert S. Ross, “Here Be Dragons: Is China a Military Threat?” The National Interest, 103. September/October 2009. p. 22

6. Ibid. p. 23

7. Bryan McGrath, Mackenzie Eaglen, “America’s Navy needs 12 carriers and 3 hubs,” American Enterprise Institute, March 11, 2014, https://www.aei.org/publication/americas-navy-needs-12-carriers-and-3-hubs/.

8. Michael D. Shear, “Touring Warship, Trump Pushes Plan to Expand Military,” New York Times, March 2, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/02/us/politics/trump-navy-warship-military-spending.html.

9. David B. Larter, “Donald Trump wants to start the biggest Navy build-up in decades,” Navy Times, November 15, 2016, https://www.navytimes.com/articles/donald-trumps-navy-bigger-fleet-more-sailors-350-ships.

10. Ibid.

11. Thomas Donnelly. “You Say You Want a Revolution?” American Enterprise Institute, March 15, 2017. https://www.aei.org/publication/you-say-you-want-a-revolution/.

12. Jack S. Levy, “The Offensive/Defensive Balance of Military Technology,” in Conflict After the Cold War. ed. Richard K. Betts (Columbia University, Pearson Press. 2012). p. 444

13. Ibid., 446

14. Michael R. Kraig, “Military Planning for East Asia: A Clausewitzian Approach,” Strategic Studies Quarterly, Spring 2017. p. 102

15. Ibid. 120

Featured Image: ARABIAN GULF: Sailors on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) (Ike) participate in the Out of the Darkness Community Walk to increase awareness for suicide prevention. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Casey J. Hopkins)

A Balancing Act: U.S. and the Cross-Strait Relation

NAFAC Week

By Jenny Chau Vuong

A growing China is shifting the balance of power in East Asia. The question remains: Should the U.S. engage or contain China’s rise? Containing a country of 1.3 billion people will be a costly option, economically and militarily. Joseph Nye at Harvard University warns that if the U.S. continues to treat China as the enemy, then they are certain to have an enemy.1 Thus, it is in the United States’ best interest to pursue positive relation with China.

One of the most pressing issues that stands between the U.S.-China relation is Taiwan. Reunification with Taiwan is deeply rooted within Chinese nationalism, and many see the island as stolen land that needs to be returned to China. On the other hand, with a growing national identity and political differences, Taiwan aims for independence. There are three most likely outcomes in this conflict: Taiwan declaring independence, maintaining the status quo, or reuniting with China. In order to maintain positive relation with China, the U.S. should not bolster Taiwan’s confidence to declare independence.

Cross-Strait Relation: War as a Last Resort

China is bent on reunification because it is essentially their unfinished civil war. Zhu Bang Zao, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, made their stance very clear: “Taiwanese independence is equal to war.”2 Zhu reaffirms that China wants a peaceful solution to reunify with Taiwan. For that reason, they are patiently relying on the forces of economic integration.

At the same time, the survey conducted by National Chengchi University in Taiwan reports that 80 percent of the respondents prefer the “status quo”3 in relation with China; however, Taiwanese are not willing to pursue independence at all cost. When asked to choose either establishing formal independence or maintaining economic ties with China, 83 percent chose the latter. It is clear that although both parties articulated different futures for Taiwan, neither want an armed conflict. The commitment to a nonviolent solution forces both Taiwan and China to operate within a gray area of quasi-independence. It is not the U.S.’ job nor is it in the U.S.’ interests to define that gray area. U.S. military intervention could ignite a global conflict and push China to be more aggressive than it actually is.

The U.S. Role in the Cross-Strait Relation

Until now, the U.S.’ stance towards Taiwan is best described as a balance of optimism and realism. The United States accepted the One China policy but signed a treaty to defend against Chinese military aggression. Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated that Taiwan “showed the world what a mature, Chinese-speaking democracy looks likes.”4 The U.S. hopes that this beacon of democracy can influence China’s transformation. That is also the exact reason why China is fixed on reclaiming Taiwan – Taiwanese independence threatens the current regime. Despite the admiration, the U.S. is not committed to going to war with China over Taiwan, and for good reasons. Thus, the U.S. should not bolster Taiwan’s confidence by overpromising and underdelivering in the future.

In the foreseeable future, it will be difficult for Taiwan to obtain full independence based on recent trends. Taiwan’s economy has become deeply intertwined with China in the past 15 years. The British Office reported that in 2015, China absorbed around 30 percent of exports, making it the largest trading partner for Taiwan.5

Additionally, China is said to be capable of launching a military invasion by 20206, but that does not mean that they will. Furthermore, China’s actions are consistent with its commitment to a nonviolent solution in Taiwan by adopting the Nuclear No-First-Use policy and relying on the slow but steady economic integration. As Erik Eckholm, Beijing bureau chief for the New York Times states, “the number one principle – if you are a Chinese leader – is not that you have to regain Taiwan in the next five years. It’s that you can’t lose Taiwan.”

Currently, Taiwan spends less than 2 percent of their GDP on military spending.7 Thus, the small island will be relying on foreign powers to come to its defense. If Taiwan, convinced of U.S. support, declares independence, this will lead to war with China. There are two paths with one likely outcome. One, the U.S. fails to come to Taiwan’s defense, and China invades Taiwan, forcing reunification under Chinese terms. In this outcome, the U.S. will lose credibility among allies in the region, and it can cause China to become more belligerent. Two, the U.S. enters the fight to protect Taiwan, draws in the rest of the world, and starts another global conflict. No matter the victor of the war, Taiwan’s economy and infrastructure will be destroyed. It will break the U.S.-China relation, causing an economic slowdown in the global economy. Considering the consequences, the two countries are dedicated to peaceful solution, and the U.S. should follow suit.

In the meantime, the U.S. should avoid instigating aggression from the Chinese towards Taiwan. The U.S. should honor the Taiwan Relation Act in 1979 and promote diplomatic, cultural, and economic exchange; however, the U.S. must not directly engage in armed conflict with China. The U.S. can continue helping Taiwan maintain the status quo by selling weapons and expanding trade treaties. Taiwan has some time to build up their defense and economy to stand on equal footing with China, giving Taiwan more power when negotiating with China about how to define the gray area.

This strategy allows the U.S. to maintain a salvageable relationship with China without completely abandoning Taiwan. The U.S. can rely on regional allies to develop a check against Chinese power by strengthening defense treaties and diplomatic ties. If China throws their weight around, it will naturally encourage check and balance behavior from their neighbors. But without U.S. presence in the region, they are likely to jump on the Chinese bandwagon.

Conclusion

As China grows stronger, it will be more difficult for Taiwan to gain independence. The cost of defending Taiwan will also increase for the United States. The best scenario for Taiwan would be to accept the one country, two systems policy, while negotiating for better terms. The United States’ presence plays a large role in helping Taiwan maintain the status quo. But recognizing that the island’s de facto rule will not last forever, the United States needs to be prepared to lose Taiwan or fight China. Both economies will suffer greatly in an armed conflict. Thus, maintaining good relations with China is a better outcome for everyone. However, losing Taiwan doesn’t mean the U.S. will lose their foo hold in East Asia. As long the U.S. focuses on strengthening ties with regional countries, the U.S. can still plant its feet firmly in East Asia.

Born to Chinese parents in Vietnam, Jenny Vuong naturally developed an interest for international affairs. At the University of California Irvine, Jenny is the student ambassador in the Dean’s Council for the School of Social Sciences. She is also the Resident Advisor to the freshmen Global Perspectives hall. During her second year, Jenny studied abroad in South Korea for a year, where she interned for People for Successful Corean Reunification Organization (PSCORE). In Fall 2017, Jenny will study abroad again in Yokohama, Japan. She is looking to pursue a Ph.D. in international relations with a focus in East Asia. In her free time, Jenny enjoys cooking, learning new languages, and playing tennis.

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2. Bang-Zao, Zhu. ” Why the Taiwan Issue is so Dangerous.” Interview. PBS. September 2001.

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5. Taiwan Economy: 2016 Q1. Report. British Office. May 24, 2016. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

6. Keck, Zachary. “China Can Attack Taiwan by 2020, Taipei Says.” The Diplomat. 9 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.

7. Lin, Adela, and Ting Shi. “Taiwan Plans Military Spending Surge to Counter Rising China.” Bloomberg. 16 Mar. 2017. Web. 29 Mar. 2017.

Featured Image: Supporters of Taipei’s mayoral candidate from Taiwan’s ruling party, the KMT, wave flags during a campaign stop on Oct. 26, 2014. (SAM YEH/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)